The first signs are:
- the show: this is the release of the mucus plug, or operculum, which seals the opening of the cervix. In some women it comes away as a single blob of pinkish jelly; in others it is a series of smaller pieces, and in others it can be reddish brown. It is a sign that the cervix is beginning to stretch and soften a little, in preparation for labour. It can be several days between the show and the start of labour proper, or just an hour or so, or anything in between;
- rupture of the membranes or 'breaking of the waters': the membranes are also known as the bag of waters, or amniotic sac, which is the fluid surrounding the baby inside the uterus. When the membranes rupture, the amniotic fluid, also known as liquor (pronounced 'ly-kwor'), escape. It can happen as a sudden gush of liquid down your legs. More usually, though, it will start to trickle. Telephone your doctor, midwife or the hospital if your waters break;
- contractions: these are only a sure sign of labour if they come closer together over a period of an hour or two, and last longer than 40 seconds. You should feel them getting stronger and longer, too.